New Teachers: How to Develop ‘The Look’
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take a class taught by Dr. Sharroky Hollie, author of the book Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning, while I was in the process of getting my teaching certification.
The training focused on teaching new teachers who are employed in public schools in urban areas how to effectively manage their classrooms. There were a few key takeaways from the course that really resonated with me, and I’ve been carrying those with me throughout all of these years. To begin, Dr. Hollie invited a member of the local community to give a presentation to our class on the topic of gangs and the development of gang culture in Los Angeles. We also gained an understanding of tagging, including the kinds of messages it conveys and the goals it serves, as well as the factors that lead to young people becoming involved in such a culture.
Reading in silence was the activity that Dr. Hollie chose to do during those first few minutes of class, and we were instructed to understand the significance of making use of this time effectively. We were required to bring something to read to each class, and after spending the first ten minutes of class together reading in silence, we would then discuss what we had just read with a person sitting nearby. Before we had cellphones, there were times when some of us would forget to bring something to read, such as a book, newspaper, or magazine. I didn’t realise until much later that one of the goals of this activity was to demonstrate to us that, hey, we all make mistakes sometimes (to bring a book, homework, a pencil, etc.). Another, more obvious and significant reason was that we saw the value in this activity and wanted to make use of it with our students in order to foster a love for reading on one’s own.
LEARNING THE LOOK
What was the one piece of advice that stuck with you the most? Dr. Hollie checked in with us at the beginning of one of our earlier classes to see if we all had The Look mastered at that point. The vast majority of us looked around, bewildered and unsure of what he meant (we were all first-year teachers). A few of the students nodded their heads in agreement. After that, he went on to explain why it is crucial for every successful educator to cultivate “The Look.”
He explained to us that this particular expression is a nonverbal way to let a child know that you are aware of them being distracted from the task at hand by talking or engaging in behaviour that they should not be engaging in (e.g., chewing gum or trying to distract another student who is trying to complete an assignment).
According to Dr. Hollie, if “The Look” is executed properly, it can subtly communicate a serious warning, and it is an excellent strategy for managing without bringing a student’s behaviour to the attention of the entire class. The Look ought not to be hostile or enraged; in point of fact, it may convey calm and is frequently devoid of any expression at all.
After that, he had us all work together in groups of four or five to get some practise. He asked us to come to the front of the room, and at the count of three, we were to all do The Look that we had created. This came after much laughter and dramatics in our groups. The remaining students in the class would then provide feedback in the form of comments, criticism, and applause before awarding each group a grade. Instead, I’d give it a grade of B- because at least one person found it funny.
It was an enjoyable activity that also provided a lot of useful information. After that day, and throughout my first year of teaching, I came to the realisation that there are many situations that arise in the classroom in which we can use this strategy, as well as other nonverbal strategies, to signal to students that we are aware of their behaviour. I was able to do this by using a combination of these strategies. Simply making eye contact with a student or moving in close proximity to where they are seated can suffice when words are not required in a given circumstance. Because calling out students’ behaviours in front of the class can be embarrassing for the child, nonverbal classroom management tactics like these help keep everyone’s dignity intact in the room. (At that point in time, having that discussion one-on-one with the student is the most beneficial and fruitful course of action.)
DOES IT WORK?
During the time that I spent teaching English to high school students, I fielded questions and comments from a number of them regarding “The Look.” They assured me that they would make a concerted effort to steer clear of activities that could bring it their way. They were aware that this was an action that I did not take very frequently, but when I did, it was for an important reason, and the student in question was not hiding; rather, he or she was held accountable.
To those who have recently entered the teaching profession: Work on it together with a coworker and take it in turns. You should serve as each other’s coaches, as well as practise in front of a mirror and work on perfecting an expression that says, “I see you. You have my support, but you also need to focus on the task at hand.